We who saw signs

Ola Vasiljeva, Alchimie du Verbe 2009, Analogue slides.

In what sort of hybridised mise-en-scene can a human-puppet, man-made flowers (or they could just be gigantic paper-clips) and a bellman’s trolleys co-exist? Finding explanations of deliberate instability in Ola Vasijeva’s Alchimie Du Verbe (2009) compositional decisions are likely to be as vexing as sorting through a storehouse populated with random artefacts that come with no cataloguing labels.

We who saw signs presents works that are familiar bedfellows of semiotics, signification and pastiche, sutured together by their depiction of depicting predominantly intermedial states – a position “ascribed to objects, texts or persons caught some way in the vicinity of the threshold”[1]. While it pays concerted attention to the artist as visionary whose creative agency is directed towards uncovering the grey spaces between, the works convene comfortably within well-worn postmodernist underpinnings: the deconstruction of absolutes, eclecticism, the critique of myth of originality and the bias of accepted historical narrative. The viewer’s role is present but subtle; the transformation from artistic narrative into artistic prophecy is ultimately dependent upon our visual perception.

Adad Hannah, Video stills from All Is Vanity (Mirrorless Version), 2009. HD video, 11 min 46s

Charles Allan Gilbert’s (1873-1929) All Is Vanity serves as a backdrop for Adad Hannah’s 11-minute video – identically titled as Gilbert’s drawing – whose subjects sit as still as possible with only their breathing and blinking movements as indicators of passing time. Hannah’s contemporary choreography of memento mori grafts the animate onto the inanimate within the time-based context of film, intruding upon the contemplative melancholy of mortality.

Yoca Muta, Video stills from Mountain, 2008, 5 min.

In Yoca Muta’s Mountain (2008), nature is a sheet onto which desires and longings are projected. A misty mountain landscape is revealed as a mound of (rather unappetising) cake that the artist consumes with relish. Perhaps a video-equivalent that hints at trompe l’oeil – the heightened form of illusionism to depict an object so exactly as to make it appear real – Mountain expounds on the playful nature of revelatory art and viewer perceptions.

We who saw signs is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore (ICAS) until 4 September 2011.


[1] Aguirre, Quance and Sutton: the definition of liminality.

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